Original Research - Special Collection: Theology and Nature

Since when have humans had a soul?

Andreas May
HTS Teologiese Studies / Theological Studies | Vol 78, No 2 | a7311 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.4102/hts.v78i2.7311 | © 2022 Andreas May | This work is licensed under CC Attribution 4.0
Submitted: 31 December 2021 | Published: 08 April 2022

About the author(s)

Andreas May, Department of Systematic and Historical Theology, Faculty of Theology and Religion, University of Pretoria, Pretoria, South Africa


An attempt is made to determine when humans have had a soul. For this purpose, mind and soul are distinguished from each other. This clarification of terms makes it possible to criticise the emergentist view, which assumes that the soul arises naturally from the biological organism. The existence of a soul is inferred from the mental activities of humans, which are directed towards the transcendent. Special significance is given to burials. Burials have been practised for at least 448 000 years. Not only Homo sapiens, but also Homo naledi, Homo heidelbergensis steinheimensis and Homo neanderthalensis buried their dead. Therefore, there is good reason to assume that Homo heidelbergensis and all its descendants possessed (and still possess) a soul. Moreover, one can suppose that Homo erectus and Homo naledi also possessed a soul.

Contribution: The clear distinction between the immanent mind and the transcendent soul makes us aware that we humans are beings equally at home in immanence and transcendence. Humans have possessed a soul for a very long time, and not only Homo sapiens but also his ancestors and related species.


soul; mind; burials; human evolution; palaeoanthropology; theology; tripartite view of humans; emergentism


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